When I read obituaries, I always note the age of the deceased. Automatically I relate this figure to my own age. Four years to go, I think. Nine more years. Two years and I’m dead. The power of numbers is never more evident than when we use them to speculate on the time of our dying. Sometimes I bargain with myself. Would I be willing to accept sixty-five, Genghis Khan’s age on dying? Suleiman the Magnificent made it to seventy-six. That sounds alright, especially the way I feel now, but how will it sound when I’m seventy-three?
It’s hard to imagine these men feeling sad about death. Atilla the Hun died young. He was still in his forties. Did he feel sorry for himself, succumb to self-pity and depression? He was the King of the Huns, the Invader of Europe, the Scourge of God. I want to believe he lay in his tent, wrapped in animal skins, as in some internationally financed movie epic, and said brave cruel things to his aides and retainers. No weakening of the spirit. No sense of the irony of human existence, that we are the highest form of life on earth and yet ineffably sad because we know what no other animal knows, that we must die. Atilla did not look through the opening in his tent and gesture at some lame dog standing at the edge of the fire waiting to be thrown a scrap of meat. He did not say, “That pathetic flea-ridden beast is better off than the greatest ruler of men. It doesn’t know what we know, it doesn’t feel what we feel, it can’t be sad as we are sad.
I want to believe he was not afraid. He accepted death as an experience that flows naturally from life, a wild ride through the forest, as would benefit someone known as the Scourge of God. This is how it ended for him, with his attendants cutting off their hair and disfiguring their own faces in barbarian tribute, as the camera pulls back out of the tent and pans across the night sky of the fifth century A.D., clear and uncontaminated, bright-banded with shimmering worlds."
— from White Noise by Don DeLillo